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Music is a secret weapon during COVID

Our granddaughters, ages 16 and 18, are planning a visit with their grandparents. It will be a masks-up weekend, so we hope the weather holds so we can be outside a lot.

Have you hosted any visitors yet? Maybe a small in-home gathering with partially vaccinated guests and all their favorite foods? We are hoping this visit will feel normal, whatever that is these days. I’m happy they’re coming — it was actually their idea, but I also feel a bit anxious about it. For many reasons.

Even before the pandemic we had not seen these grand girls very often. Our granddaughters entered adolescence with divorced parents and familial angst. That reality, together with distance and a myriad of school or extracurricular obligations, intervened in visitations to far-away grandparents.

Add to that, I have come to know about myself that I am better with infants and small children than I am with adolescents. When the girls were young they would come for joyous, week-long summer stays. The best parts were often musical. “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” was my go-to diversion for them. That song-story has a lot of head bobbing, feet tapping and foolish merriment. Isabella and Sarah would usually end up giggling, and if you’re giggling, you are definitely happy.

So, are you? Happy, that is. Research has identified characteristics that correlate with happiness. These include parenthood, marital status, age, income, religious involvement and proximity to other happy people. That means if you’re an older adult and a person of faith, married (with satisfactorily launched children) and some degree of disposable income, you’re off to a good start. Hang around with giggling toddlers or teens and you might have it nailed.

For me, happiness is that personal feeling of well-being and contentment. “Full of joy” is actually my favorite definition. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed tools that assess various character strengths in order to get to a better understanding of “authentic happiness,” which on its face looks like a combination of pleasure, engagement and meaning.

I think it is fair to say the pandemic has made all of us less happy overall. If engagement is one key to authentic happiness, and we have not been able to do that much in the past year, it’s not surprising we’re a little flat. Add to that, University of Minnesota researchers found that 50% of happiness is genetically based. If your parents were cheery souls, you probably already engage in the occasional giggle. If mom and dad weren’t all that positive, you have an additional challenge, as well as the opportunity to launch new beginnings.

I have it on good report that music is “the unsung secret to happiness and stability during the pandemic.” People are listening to a lot more music and “it has become a lifeline.” A large national study (albeit brand-commissioned) found that 79% of respondents identified listening to a musician or song as “key to battling the COVID blues.”

Note to self: Make it a weekend when we embrace a variety of musical options and sing-alongs. Hand clapping optional but encouraged.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.